Homemade plastic pistol raises gun control alarm

After successfully firing a gun made with a 3D printer over the weekend, a University of Texas law school student hopes to refine the prototype and ultimately distribute online files so anyone can make one.

The test firing amid the national gun control debate was immediately called “stomach-churning” by one U.S. Senator and has prompted nervous calls for legislation to ban such guns. The first prototypes were all plastic, but 25-year-old Cody Wilson says he has made modifications including adding six ounces of steel so metal detectors can spot it.

He also has obtained a manufacturing license from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Ultimately, Wilson wants to distribute downloadable files that that can be plugged into a 3D printer.

“It’s about empowerment of the individual over political hierarchy,” he said.

Wilson, who one year ago co-founded Defense Distributed, the online collective managing the Wiki Weapon Project, said the .380-caliber pistol “behaved exactly as we expected it would” during the test.

The Austin office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Monday confirmed that Wilson has the required licenses to legally manufacture the gun and the ammunition for it.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said the technology means anyone “can open a gun factory in their garage” and announced that he and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., are introducing legislation to ban 3D printed guns.

Schumer said the guns are capable of passing unnoticed through metal detectors, violating the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988.

Others worry that felons, mentally ill people, or terrorists could use the technology to manufacture firearms and potentially explosives.

Wilson calls Schumer’s anticipated legislation “pernicious” and outdated because airport detectors are more sophisticated. One of his plastic guns is unlikely to ever make it on a plane undetected, he said.

Plus, his current prototype has steel in it.

“I understand the concern, but there is a bit of misdirection,” Wilson said. “This gun is detectable by backscatter X-ray and digital imaging and all the other conventional modern forms of imaging.”

The Hyde Park resident’s next step is to refine the prototype, which was successfully fired by hand Saturday on private property in Lockhart. The test-firing video has been posted on Youtube. The gun is called the Liberator and is mostly made of bulky white plastic. Wilson is hoping to streamline it and make improvements.

Wilson developed the idea with a friend in March 2012 and raised $2,000 in 22 days through the crowd-sourcing website Indiegogo.com. The company then froze their account because of the weapon concerns. Another company, which had loaned Wilson a 3D printer, reclaimed it a day later because of legal concerns.

But through media attention, Wilson said, the group reached its target of $20,000 on Sept. 19.

Although he has public safety concerns, Austin Public Safety Commission chairman Michael Lauderdale said 3D printing is exciting technology that could revolutionize manufacturing.

“I read it from two different perspectives. I worry about it from a legal, public safety perspective,” he said. “But this 3D manufacturing could very well end the way we manufacture our automobiles, electric motors, all kinds of things.”

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